February 1 – day one. Like any good retailer, I’m getting out and learning from customers – in my case members – understanding potential customers and listening to my team; all essential.
February 14 – it’s the BRC’s regular face-to-face meeting with Monetary Policy Committee economists at the Bank of England. This is direct access to the people who make the decisions and it’s clear they want to hear from us as we feed back answers, direct from retailers.
They’d cut rates the week before and, our economics team explains, trading is tough and they need to cut again soon. (They did, but not until April).
March 5 – in Edinburgh with senior members of our Scottish Retail Consortium. It’s clear that, in Scotland, legislation affecting retailers is heading on a radically different course from the rest of the UK. Issues including alcohol, obesity and carrier bags are all being handled very differently and I’m struck by the serious cost implications for UK-wide retailers of having to operate in two increasingly different regimes.
March 10 – Brussels. After one of the stormiest flights I’ve experienced, I meet one of the Commission’s environment advisers. He’s outlining his vision for a greener world.
I want a greener world, but some of his ideas show a worrying naivety. He wants to get all retailers together to agree not to stock non-green products. Even if that didn’t break competition law, who’s going to define green?
The BRC is lobbying strongly here and I find myself incensed by protectionist tariffs on low-energy light bulbs, footwear and candles; outrageous.
April 15 – our retail figures are out. Sales values are down on a year ago for the first time in two years. The media are rightly fascinated, so it’s up at 5am for the notorious, but irresistible double bill of appearances on Wake up to Money followed by Today. Why are business slots all so early? I emphasise thriving retail matters to the industry’s 3 million employees and the whole UK economy.
Later at Sky News I’m offered make-up. I say: “Yes please, can you make me look like George Clooney?” Their powder puff wielding expert says: “I’m good, but not that good.” She must have heard it before.
April 30 – at the House of Commons launching retailers’ new environmental commitments alongside Hilary Benn.
It’s the first time the sector has come together to make such a comprehensive set of pledges, but we make it clear that the Government must support retail in achieving them. Climate change has to be about more than hot air.
Three months in, this job is hard work but rewarding.